Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers offer outlet for renewal
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Since COVID-19 struck in March, most Baptist pastors have had nothing to do since they haven’t been able to preach in person or make hospital visits, right? Wrong!
Instead, the last three to four months have created more work and stress than before, say Tennessee Baptist leaders across the state.
“Everything a pastor does has been turned upside down the last few months,” observed Russ Wilkins, director of missions for Shiloh Baptist Association, based in Adamsville.
“A pastor’s calling/job is one of the most stressful positions anyone can have,” Wilkins said.
During COVID-19 part of the congregation thinks the church waited too long to start back and should begin back with everything they did in the past, another part is cautious about coming back and only wants to do what they know can be done safely, and a final group is not coming back until there is a vaccine, he noted.
“No matter what the pastor does, a group in the church will not be happy with him. How is that for stress and fatigue?”
Roger “Sing” Oldham, pastor engagement specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, agreed.
“If Moses, Elijah, Jonah, the Apostle Paul and other biblical characters suffered from stress and fatigue, we should not think we are immune from the same frailties of living in fallen bodies in a fallen world,” he opined.
Rusty Sumrall, director of missions for Nashville Baptist Association, observed that many “pastors have had to develop new skills using Zoom, Skype and other technology to continue ministry in new ways.”
In addition, many pastors and church staff members have been “emotionally stressed” as they have had to minister to families under “new rules in hospitals and funeral homes.
“Pastors are not able to have the ministry of presence they are used to having with their church families,” Sumrall continued.
“On top of learning new skills , preparing messages, Bible studies and devotions online many pastors have been keeping church hours at the church building because they are so conscientious about their hours of service for the church, he continued.
“Since they are not able to visit they are spending more hours at the church. One pastor told me he has been at the church seven days a week for the last three months and has not taken one day off,” Sumrall said.
The leaders agreed that many pastors and staff members are hesitant to let their churches know they are tired and stressed.
“Many pastors fear that failure to press ever onward is a sign of weakness or a lack of faith,” Oldham said, adding that some ministers “fear church members will think they are shirking their ministerial duties.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic many pastors felt a unique weight of ministerial responsibility to serve their congregations 24/7,” Oldham said. What began as a few weeks of “slowing the curve” dragged on interminably, he added.
“As we emerge from the shut-down, it is imperative that lay leaders in church-elected roles insist their pastors take a break. Physical rest and a respite from daily duties are absolutely essential for spiritual and emotional health,” Oldham stressed.
Sumrall agreed that most ministers will not share how tired and stressed they are. “Church leaders can encourage them to schedule vacation time and remind them they still have their allotted vacation time available.”
Wilkins shared that “because so many church offices were closed for a few weeks or hours were cut back, I think many pastors think their congregations feel like they have been on a mini vacation.
“That is the furthest thing from the truth. Privately, I have had many pastors admit they are exhausted, spent, struggling with depression or anxiety but publicly they do not feel they could share or admit this,” Wilkins said.
In recognizing the need for pastors and staff ministers to get away for a time of personal renewal, the Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers are offering the facilities at Linden Valley in Linden and Carson Springs in Newport at a reduced cost, said Mark Proctor, associate administrator for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Proctor said ministers and their families can stay in either conference center for only $34 per night and the stay includes a continental breakfast. Other meals are not available at this time, he noted.
Reservations will be accepted for rooms beginning on June 24 and will be available throughout the summer and early fall, he noted.
In addition, the conference centers also are planning “Re-Emerge Retreats” to provide pastors and church staff an opportunity to gather in an overnight retreat setting, “downstream of COVID-19 and away from the technology that has hallmarked their ministries over the last many months,” Proctor said.
“We want to give them a chance to talk in small groups and large groups and process what has happened, what it means, and where to go from here,” he noted.
Proctor added that participants will hear brief inspirational messages from leaders, enjoy guided conversations among themselves and be offered plenty of time for restoration and communion with the Lord,” all in the setting of either the Buffalo River in Linden Valley or the English Mountain at Carson Springs.
“This is an opportunity for the TBMB to serve the leaders that have served their churches so faithfully during the pandemic,” Proctor said.
The retreats have been scheduled for Aug. 24-25 at Linden Valley and Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at Carson Springs. The price is yet to be determined, he noted.
The Tennessee Baptist leaders stressed that the renewal is not just for the minister but also his family.
In Christian ministry, a healthy home is essential for effectiveness in ministry, Oldham shared.
“Wise pastors express love to each family member daily. Wise lay leaders provide means for pastors to have a weekly day off for family, to have a family retreat quarterly, and to be free from all ministry duties at least semi-annually,” he added.
Wilkins observed that pastors are leaving the ministry at an alarming rate. “They will continue to do so if churches do not encourage rest and renewal for them and their family.
“If Jesus consistently withdrew for time away (Luke 5:16), we certainly need to do it more,” Wilkins said.
ENCOURAGE YOUR PASTOR
Russ Wilkins, director of missions for Shiloh Baptist Association, based in Adamsville, provides some practical suggestions for how churches can encourage their pastors and church staffs.
- Pray for the pastors and staff!
- Run interference and take some of the “kickback” of decisions made concerning live or online services, service times, Sunday School and small groups, children’s services, youth services, etc. Deacons, make sure the church knows you have your pastor’s back and agree with the decisions being made. Share why decisions were made. Clarity, unity and communication will go a long way.
- Send your pastor on a weekend getaway somewhere. Surprise him during the service, give him and his wife a getaway, and encourage him to do it as soon as possible. Don’t count it against his vacation time. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is providing low-cost rates at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden and Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport for pastors this summer.
- Explore some resources that could be good to encourage your pastor with. Send him to a conference, buy him some books, give him a gift card to somewhere nice, or send his wife some flowers.
- Give your pastor an extra week of vacation this year and encourage him to use it before the summer is up.
- Send a card or an encouraging handwritten note.